The Ballad of Joey Bats

The fate of this season is on Bautista’s shoulders now

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Blue Jays 1, Red Sox 4

Another hard loss to put alongside all the rest. Going in against Chris Sale you’d be nuts to expect a win no matter who you are; playing like the Jays have been playing, you can’t really have anything more than a faint hope of success.

Unless you have Marco Estrada on the mound. He shouldn’t be this good, he really shouldn’t. But oh my goodness, he really is. It was thanks to him and to him alone that the Jays were even in this thing until Xander Boegarts put the Sox ahead in the ninth, at which point you would be excused for giving up all hope because Craig Kimbrel is really good (for all that he looks like a broken backed crab when he gets in his stance), but then another bit of magic in the form of yet another really big and wonderfully dramatic home run by Kendrys Morales put them right back in it.

Who’s the man? Kendrys. Kendrys is the man.

Then, well, Grilli came out and grunted his forty-year old way to a loss against a team filled with faster, younger, better hitters who (let’s face it) are far and away the better team here. Still, it would have been nice to scrape out another win…but like I said, I wasn’t really expecting one today in any event.

Speaking of older ball players…

José Bautista.

I have come to the inescapable conclusion that the fate of this team now resides almost entirely on the shoulders of Joey Bats. He, and his struggles, have become something of a theme for me in these columns, and for good reason: the Jays need fewer easy outs, more hits, and more power.

Josh Donaldson, when he returns, will address some of that, but he can’t do it on his own. Morales is the man, but he’s already giving everything he can. Russell Martin, as is now abundantly clear and has been since last season (even if it is with the benefit of hindsight) will never again be a player who can give you a lot of hits or power: I’m hoping that he can at least cut down on the number of cheap outs he gives away. Tulo is already giving the team just about the best that can be expected of him at this point of his career. Devon Travis has the potential to get a lot more hits, but he’s never really going to be a big power bat.

Carrera, Goins, Barney, Smoak, Saltalamacchia…they are what they are.

Kevin Pillar is providing offensive numbers well beyond what I had expected: the only way he has to go at this point is down, which is a truly unique situation on this team this year.

Which leaves us with Bautista. He may not be the player he once was, but he should be getting on base almost as often as Pillar (lifetime, Bautista is .367; this year, Pillar is .368) while hitting as many bombs as Morales (who averages twenty-five home runs per 162 games to Bautista’s thirty-three). He should not be striking out 35% of the time; he should not be slugging .157 with no home runs and just two doubles through fourteen games.

And yet, somehow, in this bizzarro-universe of a season, he is.

And because of this, he’s the key to it all. It’s really as simple as this: if Bautista starts hitting like he should be hitting, the Jays may actually be able to pull this out of the fire. If he doesn’t, then there could very well be a July fire sale instead.

So what’s wrong with Joey and is it fixable?

I sure wish I knew the answer to that one, but I have this sneaking, sick feeling that maybe Major League Baseball has already decided that Bautista is no longer anywhere close to the player he once was and never will be again. And that really scares me because while a lot of fans like to pretend they’re smarter than all thirty of the front offices in baseball, I’m not one of those fans.

Nobody but Bautista and his agent know all the details of the deals he may or may not have received during the off season, but it’s obvious enough that there weren’t many, and none of them were particularly attractive, otherwise he would have signed a multi-year deal somewhere other than Toronto; in point of fact, the only reason he’s back with Toronto at all would appear to be because Edward Rogers put pressure on Shapiro (and gave him the money he needed?) to bring Bautista back to try and mitigate some of the bad press they got in the wake of “losing” Edwin.

How much of this is true, I don’t really know, but it is clear that ownership intervened on Bautista’s behalf to help finish the deal…meaning, even the guys who ended up signing him didn’t necessarily believe in him; and this would be the same guys who have access to every scrap of his medical reports and more statistical analyses of his performance than anyone else on Earth.

They know everything there is to know about Bautista, and they had to be convinced—by their employers—to hire him back as their plan C after plans A (Dexter Fowler) and B (Jay Bruce) fell through.

But you know what? In spite of everything I still believe in José Bautista. I believe in his uncanny ability to tell ball from strike right out of the pitcher’s hand. I believe in his baseball IQ and in his steely determination to be great. I believe that his eye isn’t quite so sharp as it was, but it’s still sharp enough…that his hands aren’t as quick, but neither are they slow. I believe in his power, in his swing, in bat flips.

I believe in Joey Bats.

 

 

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